If you are following the 12 month challenge to teach your children to live more like Jesus, this month is all about prayer. Jesus modeled prayer to us in such wonderful ways. It was obvious the prayer life of Jesus was about pouring his heart out to his Father. We only have a few of his actual prayers recorded, but I have a feeling they barely touch the tip of his prayer life.
In most Christian families, prayer is probably the area that gets the most attention when our children are young. Parents love those adorable bedtime prayers of small children and most have a favorite rote prayer which is said at meals. How many of us though, have gone beyond those basics to help our children establish a meaningful prayer life?
Prayer is the best way for us to communicate with God. It is so important, Paul even told us the Holy Spirit will speak to God for us when we aren’t sure what to pray (Romans 8:26). The New Testament is filled with examples of the power of prayers. Do our children understand these concepts? More importantly, do they believe them? Is there a concrete, enjoyable way to help transition our children from family prayers to their own personal prayer life?
As our children transition to a personal prayer life, there are some basics they need to understand.
- Prayer is about talking to God. While there is nothing necessarily wrong with rote prayers, the “Lord’s Prayer” was meant to be a model for our prayers not just to be quoted verbatim (Matthew 6:5-9). God wants to hear from our children, just like we do. He wants to have them pour out their hearts to him whether they are happy, sad, worried, excited, scared or thankful. Sometimes people are afraid to share their negative emotions with God. Our children need to understand that emotions aren’t sinful. Even Jesus had emotions. It is how we behave in reaction to our emotions that is either sinful or godly. Show your child the book of Psalms. Psalms are the words of David and others to God. Notice how sometimes the words are angry, others are frightened and others praise. Just about every human emotion is covered in Psalms. God is big enough to handle our feelings.
- Prayer is not just about asking for things. God is not Santa Claus in the sky. (Or a gum ball prize machine for younger children!) He is not a magic genie who exists solely to grant our wishes. Your child needs to understand that God absolutely, positively knows what is best for us. Our job is to discover God’s will for our lives and follow it. God may grant our requests, but sometimes like Israel asking for a king, he does it to teach us a lesson if our requests don’t align with his will. Other times, God will just say “No” to our “wishes” if they are not His will for our lives.
- Prayer is also about praising God and thanking God. It is about asking for forgiveness of our sins. When I was younger, my prayers were mostly asking for forgiveness and then asking for what I wanted to happen in my life. As I matured, I easily added asking God to help and bless others. I think for many of us though, we often forget to thank God for not only our blessings, but for all of those answered prayers. And I would say the prayers God probably hears the least are those that just praise Him, glorify Him and show our respect for Him. Teach your children to include all of the parts of prayer in their prayer life. They may not pray each of them every time, but each should be covered regularly.
- You can pray any time and anywhere. I love how parents instill the idea of regular prayers with praying at meals and at bedtime. The problem is, children begin to think those are the only times and places to pray outside of church. Teach your child how to pray without ceasing and to pray in the quiet or even while they are doing something else. Prayer should be so natural that whenever anything happens, your child immediately talks to God about it.
- God answers every single prayer! Yes, in spite of what the world and many Christians would have us believe, God answers every single one of our prayers. The problem is that most of us think our prayers are answered only if God says “Yes!”. Teach your children God can also say “No” and “Wait”. When it is obvious God has said no to our request or has told us to wait and see, he has still answered our prayers. In fact, sometimes God saying no to us is the most loving thing He could do. Teach your children God always knows what is best for us and our lives. We just have to trust Him and follow Him where He leads us. If we can do that, we may look back on some of those “No” answers as the blessings they are.
- When our children become Christians, they need to understand how the Holy Spirit can help them pray. There are times in our lives when we are confused about what to pray for or we are so upset, the words just won’t come. Those are the times to ask God to let the Holy Spirit speak for you as you don’t know the words to say. Do I understand exactly how this works? No, but it is comforting to know I don’t have to be eloquent for my heart to be heard.
In my next post, I will suggest some creative activities to encourage your children as they transition to a personal prayer life. In the meantime, begin teaching your child about the wonderful gift of prayer God has given us to use to talk to Him.